Guide to Different Types of Metals and Alloys

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Metal items have overall strength and durability. A primary concern surrounding metal use includes how the weight of the metal affects its durability over time. The bigger a metal object, the more weight it has across its entire structure. Those using metals should keep in mind how an item supports its own weight over time. Durability also comes into play with large metal objects, especially in the building and construction industry.

When designing a structure, the underlying metal beams and support need to be both corrosion resistant and able to withstand rust. That is where alloys come into play. Alloys are metals that have been mixed together. Separately, they are hard and durable enough, but when mixed together they take on characteristics of the metals they are made from. For example, iron on its own is a strong metal, but when mixed with carbon, steel is formed. Steel is stronger and lighter than regular iron, which allows for the construction of taller and bigger buildings. When purchasing a metal or alloy, shoppers need to know what specific types best fit their situation such as types of metal for roofing versus a metal structure.


Types of Metals and Alloys

There are a wide variety of metals and alloys available for individual purchasers to use in any capacity. After they determine how they intend to use the metal, they can then decide on the thickness and overall size needed. The following sections detail some of the different metals and alloys available.


Metals are the basic components in alloys, and sometimes all that a shopper needs is the actual base metal, such as silver, platinum, gold, aluminum, and more. Any metal product bought is typically a variation of one of the metals listed in the table below.

Metal Types



Comes in various alloys that determine the hardness/softness of the metal; this plays a big part in the ability to bend aluminum for various manufacturing applications; also lightweight and corrosion-resistant


A soft metal useful in conducting heat and electricity; used in various metal alloys; 100 percent recyclable and preferred metal used in wiring


A dense, soft, shiny, malleable, and ductile metal; a precious metal used in coins and jewelry


The most common element on Earth; adding other properties can change the hardness of iron; used in the production of steel


Hard, ductile, and corrosion resistant, nickel is often mixed with other metals to form stainless steel, as well as a variety of steel metals of varying hardnesses


The rarest element in the Earth's crust, platinum is the least reactive metal; corrosive resistant; most often used in catalytic converters, medical and dental equipment, and jewelry


A malleable and ductile metal slightly harder than gold; highest electrical conductivity of all the metals; used mostly in the production of coins, jewelry, high-value silverware, and tableware


A corrosion-resistant, malleable metal used in many alloys, as well as to coat other metals for corrosion resistance; most commonly used to package food products


Used along with copper to form brass; hard and brittle in its natural state; less dense than iron; used to make many alloys

There are very few cases where the pure form of a metal can be used. This is most often the case with precious metals, such as gold, silver, and platinum, but even they are generally mixed with other metals to increase their strength and durability.


Alloys offer users added durability, greater strength, and a wide variety of other properties usually not found in a base metal. The table below lists some common alloys, their parent metals, and a description of their properties and uses.

Alloy Name

Alloy Of




Malleable with acoustic properties that make it perfect for use in musical instruments; easy to cast



Hard and tough, bronze is used in the manufacture of coins, springs, turbines, and blades; lower melting point that steel or iron; typically heavier than steel



A mixture of different metals, such as iron and carbon; used in buildings, tools, ships, automobiles, machines, appliances, weapons, and more



Referred to as 41xx steel, chromoly is stronger and harder than standard steel; used for the manufacture of bicycle frames and roll cages among other uses

Stainless Steel


Corrosion, rust, and mostly stain resistant; many different grades of stainless steel; used in cookware, surgical instruments, and industrial equipment

Tool Steel


Hard and resistant to abrasion, as well as being able to hold a cutting edge; used to make hand tools and in the injection molding process



Low-density, corrosion-resistant metal; commonly alloyed with iron, aluminum, vanadium, and molybdenum, among other elements

While the above list is not all-inclusive, it gives shoppers an idea of the different metal alloys available to fit their needs. When choosing an alloy for a particular project, it is a good idea to decide what is expected out of the alloy used. Some criteria are strength, flexibility, durability, and how hard it is to work the metal.

Important Features of Metals and Alloys

When buying metals and alloys, shoppers need to determine the application first. This assures that shoppers buy the metal or alloy that best suits the end goal. The following sections detail what shoppers should look for when purchasing metals and alloys, including strength and hardness, durability and corrosion resistance, cost, and mill test reports.

Strength and Hardness

When trying to determine which metal or alloy to buy, shoppers first have to consider the material's hardness. This plays a big part in the ability of the metal to be worked and is especially important in a manufacturing environment. An example would be aluminum alloys. Some aluminum alloys are soft and easy to bend, while others are hard. And if an attempt to bend them is made, they can break under the strain. Hardness also plays a role in the ability of a metal or alloy to retain a shape once formed. So, shoppers want a material that can be shaped to their specifications, yet still retain the rigidness that a metal provides.

Durability and Corrosion Resistance

The ability for a metal or alloy to stand the test of time is also an important consideration. Most metals and their alloys are susceptible to the elements, including rain, salt water, excessive sun, or even sand and dirt. Before purchasing any products, assess a metal's ability to take what nature or man can throw at it. Of primary concern is the ability of a metal or alloy to resist rust and corrosion, the biggest contributors to metal failure. If shoppers plan to use the metal in an environment that sees a lot of weather exposure, then they need to consider the most durable metal possible.


Also take into account material costs. Typically, the more durable or long-lasting a metal or alloy is, the more it costs. Likewise, metals that have a wide application in a multitude of uses are more desired, which can drive up price. While shoppers might have little choice in the metal or alloy that they purchase, they should look at all options when shopping and purchase the metal or alloy that best fits their needs and falls within their budget.

Mill Test Reports

Shoppers should also be aware of any requirements for certification of materials. Mills, when requested to, can send mill test reports (MTRs) that specify the chemical makeup of the metal purchased. These test reports are used for insurance purposes in the case of material failure. Some customers who buy metal products require MTRs and typically keep them on file.

Buying Metals and Alloys

Metals and alloys can be purchased from a variety of dealers and manufacturers and are available in a multitude of colors. Aluminum, typically used in roofing, can come in such colors as green, palladium grey, red, or brown. If you decide to purchase your metal or alloy online, check out the eBay marketplace for a variety of product options. To search the marketplace, enter keywords, such as "copper sheet" or "6061-T651 aluminum," into the Search box on any eBay page.

After viewing the list of results, narrow the choices down even further by clicking on the Categories options to display only the listings that are in the metalworking or metal departments, for example. For more help on searching the site effectively, visit eBay's Search Tips page, and also shop specific eBay Stores for more product options.


Buy Metals and Alloys Online With Confidence

Shopping on eBay for anything, including types of metals and alloys, is typically quick and easy. Begin shopping by looking through product listings, reading over product cost, item condition, sizes, colors, and any other terms of sale. Before buying, ask the seller any remaining questions by clicking the Ask a Question link on the seller's profile page. Also, do not forget to check the seller's feedback rating to make sure you are happy with the user's past sales performance as rated by other shoppers, including any feedback on building materials specifically.



When buying metals or alloys to use in a project for a customer or at home, make sure to select the right materials for the job. If shoppers need a malleable metal that can be formed into a variety of shapes, they should get a softer metal that allows for this application. More rigid metals have their own uses, and shoppers should buy accordingly.

If unsure about what type of metal or alloy to buy, shoppers should consult a metal or fabrication specialist who can advise them on the properties of certain metals, what they are typically used for, and the best metal or alloy for any particular project. Shoppers should also check into the certification of any metal or alloy bought to ensure compliance if certain specifications have to be met. These test reports might be kept by the seller, and shoppers should check before purchasing if this is the case.


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